The Best Tool for Writers since Quill Pens
I come from a new generation of (aspiring) screenwriters. We are, more often than not, computer-based writers, having abandoned pens, notepads, and moleskin notebooks for writing software and inestimable laptops. We spend (or ask our parents to spend) hundreds of thousands of dollars on screenwriting degrees. We read books and articles and watch documentaries about the industry and expect Hollywood to seek us out – and are frequently upset when it doesn’t. Ours is a new approach to writing, perhaps an over-informed one, but undeniably an ambitious one. We have the above tools at our disposal that earlier writers didn’t. And of course, we have another, which we grew up using every day. Something very precious. Something as valuable as writing software, how-to books, and university screenwriting courses. We have the internet.
I don’t know that I can tell you when it was that I first recognized how important a tool in my writer’s box the internet is. Truth be told, I don’t know that I really thought about it much. Sure, I was aware of how useful it was, but I don’t think that the depth of that – the benefits it provides, the great fortune I have to be a young writer with the internet at my disposal – sunk in until recently. When I take a step back and look at it, though, I realize just what a powerful instrument it can be – and how it can provide almost everything a writer needs (except, of course, talent itself).
Where do all writers begin their journeys toward screenwriting careers? Watching movies. Without having seen the end results of a scribe’s toil (and falling in love with them), we’d have never become interested in bringing our ideas to the screen. But after that first light bulb goes off, after we’re old enough to realize that movies begin with scripts and scripts come from writers, we find ourselves staring at an expansive wilderness – our goal on the other side of it, and the map in our hand completely blank. What’s next? How on Earth do we wannabes get to a place where our names are rolling across the credit screens?
The answer begins simply enough; we read. We read books on writing. We read screenplays. We read every article and interview about writing that we can find. And then we read more screenplays. That, for many of us now, is where the internet first really comes into play. Book vendor sites and message boards can instantly recommend hundreds of screenwriting books, and the user reviews that accompany each of them help us determine what we need to stock our bookshelves with. Entire sites are dedicated to hosting virtual libraries of uploaded scripts – from first draft to shooting script in some cases – that we can read FOR FREE. Interviews and articles about the trials and tribulations of becoming a working writer abound online, and it takes little more than the ability to fill in a search field to find them. Everything you need to begin that journey you can find online.
Idea at the ready, tutorials completed, you then begin to write. I first started working in Word, indenting when appropriate, losing hours to formatting over the course of a script. In college, I upgraded to specially designed screenwriting software. Now, thanks to sites like Scripped.com, the internet leads the charge yet again. Web-based screenwriting programs make it impossibly convenient to write wherever there’s a connection – secure, no chance of losing your one and only draft, which you can access it from anywhere. And for those still using localized software, there’s little better way to ensure a day’s work is protected than by regularly emailing your progress to yourself. Internet victory #2 for writers? I think so.
Once you have a script ready to see the light of day, it’s back to the trusty web for more help. No matter what your next goal is, there’s a “www” for it. Entering a competition? Not only can you find every single one of them online, but you can find independent reviews and guides to pretty much all of them. And to submit, you no longer have to print that quarter ream of paper and pay the postage on it. A submission is just a click away. Or maybe you don’t want to go that route. Maybe you’re ready to look for an agent, manager, producer, or even talent to get involved. There are sites for that, too. Subscription services can give anyone with a credit card access to script sales (so you can determine who best to target for your project), contact information for industry professionals, query information, and up-to-the-minute business deal tracking. I landed my first manager through a web-based representation search and sent every query letter I wrote via email. Not a page printed in most cases.
Finally, while waiting to hear back from producers and agents, we can continue to use the web to our advantage. In fact, this practice is best used all along. More than anything nowadays, the internet is a marketing tool. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (if you’re still on it) – these are all 24/7 commercials for YOU. Agents search for talent via message boards, forums, and online groups. When companies are hiring (another example of the internet as a resource – find a job writing coverage or assisting an agent or producer), they check you out on Facebook. They Google you. Anything and everything they find is, for better or worse, fair game. They have professional profiles, so you would do yourself a favor to make sure yours is, too. And the more you have, especially the more you have that’s impressive, the more they’ll want you. Start a blog (be sure to spell correctly). Have a clever profile. Don’t spew vitriol on other people’s walls. This component of the web can be the most helpful in many instances (I’ve had agents solicit work from me because they found The Screenwriters League), but it can also be the most damning. Everyone’s online now – control how you want them to see you. A savvy online presence can get a mediocre script read faster than anything in some cases.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every day, a new social network, app, site, or gadget comes out that makes writing and self-promoting that much easier. For as much as I love to come up with stories, I can’t even begin to imagine what the next five years of online advancements will bring to a writer’s disposal. I do know, though, that with the internet at our disposal, there’s no reason we writers shouldn’t be prepared – and able – to tackle Hollywood head on.